Spotlight on the snow leopard: Biology and behaviour

This holiday season, WWF is introducing six new species for you to adopt and take home, including the snow leopard. We’re bringing you a special six-part blog series on the snow leopard, the most mysterious member of the world’s big cats.

snow leopard biology
© WCP and WWF Bhutan

Of all the big cats of the world, snow leopards are the only one that call home to the cold deserts of High Asia. They have adapted over generations to live in the harsh, mountainous environment at altitudes of up to 5500m. Their enlarged nasal cavity helps them to breathe the bitterly cold and thin air, while their long, dense and woolly hair keeps them warm in the extremely cold mountain climate. Their snow shoe like paws enable them to walk in deep snow without sinking, and their shortened limbs, long tail, and well developed chest muscles facilitate walking, leaping and stalking the prey in steep and rugged terrain. They can be easily differentiated from other leopards by their thick and long tail that provide added warmth when they wrap it around their body during resting bouts.
Snow leopards’ smoky-gray fur coat blends perfectly with the rocky slopes of their home, thereby making them practically invisible in their habitats.  Due to their elusive nature, secretive behaviour, and the extremely remote and challenging habitats, not many people have seen snow leopards out in the wild. This is perhaps the reason why they are remaining to be one of the biggest mysteries of all the world’s big cats and is referred to as the “ghost of the mountains.”
Snow leopards are about 60 cm tall at shoulder and weigh between 45 to 55 kg. Their head to body length ranges from 1 to 1.3 m, and the tail (0.8 to 1 m) is almost as long as their body.
Snow leopards spend a solitary life, except during mating season, which usually occurs between late January and mid–March. One to five cubs are born after a gestation period of 93 to 110 days, generally in June or July.  Snow leopards mark their territories with signs such as scrapes, feces, scent sprays and claw rakings.  As opportunistic predators, they can kill a prey up to three times their own weight. They also feed on small prey such as pika, marmot, hares and game birds. Wild sheep and goats including blue sheep, Asian ibex, markhor, argali sheep, and Himalayan tahr comprise their most preferred food species. Adult snow leopards take a large prey every 10 – 15 days and their annual food requirement is about 20-30 blue sheep or 12 – 15 ibex.  Livestock such as goats, sheep, young yak and horses, on the other hand, also contribute to a bulk of the snow leopard’s diet.
snow leopard biology
Blue Sheep: Snow leopard’s main food. © WCP and WWF Bhutan

 By symbolically adopting a snow leopard, you are helping to support WWF’s conservation efforts.  Adopt a species today at

snow leopard biology